Sometimes you wish the horrors in a film were just that, part of a horror film without root in reality.
Sometimes you wish the horrors in a film were
just that, part of a horror film without root in reality. But
here the horrors are all too real. Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s devastating sucker punch of a film charts twins
Jeanne (Mélissa Désormeaux-Poulin)
and Simon (Maxim Gaudette) on a
journey that unravels their identities and unveils their past.
After their mother’s
sudden death, the twins open her Will with her employer, a notary called
Jean. In it she has asked them to
travel to her home country in the Middle East, to discover the facts of their
mysterious family origins.
The twin’s odyssey is
interwoven with flashbacks to the past struggles of their mother Nawal (Lubna Azabal). The effect is straightforward and to
the point, the intention clearly being to bring home to Westerners what life
for many in the Middle East is really like. The tone is set beautifully by a recurring Radiohead song,
which is strangely appropriate and avoids being jarring, with just the right
contemporary blend of unsettling raw emotion.
Incendies (or ‘Scorched’
in English) is based on an award winning play by Wajdi Mouawad, which in the past has been criticised for being
melodramatic, and some of that criticism could certainly be levelled at the
film version. It is flawed then,
but Villeneuve expertly and successfully disguises the plot’s weaknesses by
pressing hard on the thriller button, and he never drops the ball in terms of
To put it simply, the
ending, if you can stomach it, will leave you reeling. Undoubtedly it is one of the most gut
wrenching and emotionally draining finales to a film in a recent years; the
darkest secrets are truly saved for last.
Therein lies another flaw however: though excellent in their respective
roles, it was always a tall order for Désormeaux-Poulin and Gaudette to portray
the extremes of emotional torture that their characters are put through. Thankfully such feelings are too distant
for most of us to imagine, and the director partly compensates for this with
great use of understated emotive imagery, symbols and sounds. Perhaps it’s best that some things
The cinematography is
accomplished; nothing we haven’t seen before but still beautiful from time to
time. Grégoire Hetzel’s score is haunting and very sparse; the film
largely being silent aside from voices and atmospheric sounds. This creates an atmosphere of realism,
thus lending the truths from the real world that the script brings to light
even greater impact.
Not being a ‘date movie’
Incendies hasn’t won as many viewers as it deserves, but having been rightly
nominated for Best Foreign Film at the Oscars this year, it will hopefully be
more successful on DVD. If you’ve
got two hours to sit back and concentrate, then Incendies will engross,
enlighten, shock and move you unforgettably.